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Economics References Committee
Employees' remuneration

DORAN, Dr Yaegan, University of Sydney Casuals Network

FENTON, Dr Ellyse, Member, Casualised, Unemployed, and Precarious University Workers [via audio link]

FIELKE, Dr Giles, Member Organiser, Casualised, Unemployed, and Precarious University Workers [via audio link]

IRVING, Dr Siobhan, MQ Casual Collective [via audio link]

KANE, Dr Liam, Casualised, Unemployed, and Precarious University Workers [via audio link]

KANJERE, Dr Anastasia, Committee Member, Casualised, Unemployed, and Precarious University Workers [via audio link]


CHAIR: I now welcome representatives of Casualised, Unemployed, and Precarious University Workers. Thank you for appearing before the committee today. Information on procedural rules governing public hearings has been provided to witnesses and is available from the secretariat. I would like to advise witnesses that answers to questions on notice are to be sent to the secretariat by Wednesday 17 March 2021. I invite you to make a brief opening statement should you wish to do so. Before you do so, for the Hansard record could you state the capacity in which you appear.

Dr Kanjere : I am speaking to you today from the unceded land of the Wurundjeri people from the Kulin nation. I'd like to now make a opening statement on behalf of—

CHAIR: Just one second; the others need to introduce themselves first.

Dr Doran : I'm a casual employee at the University of Sydney and the Australian Catholic University, and I'm here on behalf of the University of Sydney Casuals Network.

Dr Fielke : I'm calling in from the unceded lands of the Boonwurrung people of the Kulin nation in Melbourne. I work for the University of Melbourne and Monash University as a casual academic. Thanks for allowing me to present today.

Dr Irving : I'm calling in from unceded land from Darkinjung people on the Central Coast. I am here representing the Macquarie University casuals network.

Dr Kane : I'm talking to you from the unceded land of the [inaudible] people. I'm talking to you as a member of the casualised [inaudible] workers [inaudible].

Dr Fenton : I'm calling in from the unceded land of the Jagera and Turrbal people in Brisbane. I'm representing the UQ casual caucus. I also work at the University of New England.

CHAIR: Thank you. Who was going to make the opening statement?

Dr Kanjere : That's me, Dr Kanjere.

CHAIR: Okay. Fire away, Dr Kanjere.

Dr Kanjere : Thank you so much. The network of Casualised, Unemployed and Precarious University Workers, CUPUW, thanks the committee for the opportunity to appear before this inquiry. We are a national network of people who are or have been engaged in precarious work in universities. CUPUW convened in May 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic's devastating impact on Australian university workers. CUPUW builds on the work of precarious worker networks in various Australian universities and the National Tertiary Education Union, NTEU.

Wage theft is systemic in higher education. In our experience, wage theft is not an aberration, nor is it an accident, it is core to the university business model. Wage theft in universities takes many forms. Professional staff suffer it through misclassification, failure to pay overtime and failure to observe minimum engagement provisions. Graduate students suffer it when their unremunerated labour is used in the service of work unrelated to their funded research. These practices contribute to the normalisation of unpaid labour in higher education.

Our focus today, however, is on the wage theft experience by casual academic workers. This is because they make up the majority of the membership of our network, they are some of the most disempowered members of the university community and the wage theft experienced by these workers is extensive. Casual academics experience wage theft in several ways. It occurs when work activities are required and not remunerated. For example, when managers or senior colleagues expect that casual academics will attend lectures and staff meetings without payment. Wage theft also occurs through misclassification of work. For example, where management designates tutorials as workshops, seminars or practice classes and through definitional [inaudible] pays its work at one-third to one-half of the rate required by enterprise agreements.

Perhaps the most insidious form of wage theft experienced by casual academics is the undervaluation of teaching labour embodied in the industry-wide use of piece rates. All teaching labour performed by casual academics is paid by the piece rather than the hour. Marking is paid at a rate of words per hour or minutes per student. A paid hour of lecturing or tutoring assumes one or two additional paid hours for associated duties in which activities like preparation, student consultation and administration are supposed to be accounted. Course and unit coordination are allocated a set number of hours determined in most cases by departmental managers with a keener eye on the budget than on the nature or value of the work required.

No casual teaching academic records the hours they work in the performance of their duties and makes a pay claim for those hours. The value of small, casual teaching labour is predetermined—sometimes a wage consistent with enterprise agreements, sometimes in ways that breach enterprise agreements, but nearly always in ways that underestimate the time it takes to perform the specified duties. Wage theft [inaudible] in the gap for every casual academic observed between hours paid for teaching class and hours actually worked. Some of our members have documented the nature and extent of this gap and what our data shows is that [inaudible] consistently undervalue the work required to provide quality education.

Casual academics perform work that is core to the mission of the university. We are tutors, lecturers, markers, supervisors and course or unit coordinators. We develop curricula. We provide individual feedback to students to help them grow and develop. We provide pastoral care. We build relationships that can change a student's [inaudible]. We are the workers who educate the next generation of young people.

The undervaluation of teaching embodied in [inaudible] leaves casual academics in a difficult position. Do we work strictly to the hours set in our contract, knowing we are short-changing students who, understandably, expect their teachers to be well resourced, or do we commit to unpaid work, knowing we are participating in an exploitative system and consenting to the further normalisation of wage theft? If every one of us worked strictly to the hours set in our contract, we would provide a shallow and diminished education. Important work like providing feedback to students would simply not occur. Most casual academics accept exploitation for the sake of their students and their scholarly integrity.

Insecure work has become the norm in higher education. Sixty five per cent of Australian university workers are in insecure forms of employment. Of this, 43 per cent are employed on a casual basis and 22 per cent are on fixed term contracts. Only 35 per cent of university workers are in secure jobs. In some of our most prestigious institutions, that figure is as low as 27 per cent. Casualisation has created the conditions under which wage theft has been allowed to flourish in our sector. Low representation of the casualised workforce in university decision-making structures, as well as in the NTEU, means wage theft goes unchallenged by workers employed on zero-hour contracts. There's a clear disincentive to speak up for fear of adverse action. Those in active wage theft are often the people we rely on for the allocation of work and the development of careers, meaning there is huge pressure on us to accept the status quo. An outdated apprenticeship model of academic labour justifies wage theft on the basis that casual work constitutes a rite of passage, on the other side of which lies a continuing position with a good salary and workplace entitlements. The reality is that the extent of casualisation of the sector has left few continuing academic jobs for us to graduate into. For many precarious university workers, casual employment is a permanent feature of our working life.

We cannot rely on universities to voluntarily correct their employment practices. University management know about the wage theft taking place in their institutions. It contributes to the cheapness of academic labour and, along with the fees extracted from international students, has been enabling university services in an underfunded sector for years. While the [inaudible] are welcome, instant stronger protections for those bringing complaints, we believe that these do not get to the root of the problem. We need structural reform, including legislative reform, to define and limit the use of casual employment, and to vastly improve public funding of universities. Sector-wide de-casualisation measures are also important. [Inaudible] abolition [inaudible]. Underpinning these measures is the necessity of empowering casual workers to act together and demand something better, to challenge exploitation and find dignity and agency in their work.

To conclude, CUPUW believes that wage theft is systemic in higher education, driven by cost-cutting managerial imperatives and perpetuated by the precarity, disempowerment and fear created by casualisation. Addressing the situation will require nothing less than the transformation of our workplaces. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you, Dr Kanjere. I go to Senator Faruqi.

Senator FARUQI: Thank you, Chair. Dr Kanjere, thank you for providing that opening statement, and I thank all of you for speaking up and speaking out. I'm looking over the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association's submission and also the submissions from some universities. They are very defensive and they pretty much refute what the NTEU says and what your network says about wage theft. I will read out a little bit from the industrial association's submission which I think sums up what the institution's attitude is. They say:

Payment errors can occur as a result of complexities ... there are occasions where underpayments—or indeed overpayments—may occur in error.

…   …   …

... disputes or complaints about underpayment of casual academic staff are rare.

From all the reports and data that you have collected and the NTEU has collected, the situation seems to be the exact opposite to 'rare'. Could some of you respond to these claims by the industrial association?

Dr Doran : Thank you again for allowing us to speak. Casuals rarely have a voice within university formal systems, to the point where we live in fear of speaking up because we suddenly lose our jobs. This has happened quite regularly in the last year, when a lot of us, including me, suddenly lost work. Going to your question about universities being defensive, of course they are. One of the features of this categorisation is that it is remarkably cheap for them compared to employing permanent staff. So to say that they are consistently underpaying casual staff is to push at the heart of their entire financial model. We have collected data over the last little while, because universities have consistently refused to acknowledge it.

I will give you an example from the University of Sydney. In August 2019 a working group in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, from the NTEU, released a report surveying one-third of the faculty's 214 staff, both casual and ongoing, and found that workplace policies drastically undercounted how long it takes to complete tasks. They also released a report that showed the findings they had were very similar to those of a number of studies across Australia and the world. It showed that academics regularly had to work 50 hours a week if they were considered full time, significantly more than 37.5 hours. This was delivered to a formal workload committee chaired by the dean of the faculty of arts and 1½ years later there has been no response.

Six months later, in June 2020, the University of Sydney Casuals Network, which I represent, released a report surveying 159 casual staff in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and 82 per cent reported that they had done unpaid work that semester. When approached by the student newspaper, Honi Soit, the university declined to comment. Because of this, the University of Sydney Casuals Network put together an audit of casual hours. We looked at the actual hours worked compared to the contracted hours worked, focusing in particular on a six-week period in semester 2, with 19 staff doing meticulous tracking of every hour of work they did. From this auditing, we found that there was consistent and systematic underpayment.

Clause 59 of the University of Sydney enterprise agreement states:

The University accepts the principle that all work allocated to Casual staff should be able to be completed in the time allocated to undertake the work.

This is demonstrably false. The university does not acknowledge this, and the work that is allocated consistently goes past the hours paid. In our audit of actual hours worked, 84 per cent of staff performed allocated work in excess of the hours for which they were paid. I must note that this is not staff going above and beyond; this is staff just doing the bare minimum in order to do their teaching and their administration so that they can roll out a good educational experience for students—because we really care about them.

In this six weeks, the average underpayment was $2,521 per person in terms of hours they worked that they were not paid for. But this varied quite significantly. One staff member, who held a number of contracts, reported $11,469 of unpaid work in a six-week period. It doesn't take much extrapolation to realise that, over multiple years—I have worked as a fixed-term casual for 10 years now, and so have many of my colleagues—this very quickly ratchets up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. There were 753 hours of unpaid work by these 19 staff compared to only 1,230 hours of paid work. That means, for every dollar paid, they were not paid 75 per cent—the equivalent of being paid for 57 per cent of their work done. There was a gender skew—as we know from general society—where women reported 98 per cent underpayment per dollar and men 57 per cent. More specifically, in different categories, we found very consistently that for every single category, whether it be lecturing, tutoring or administration, there were extra hours. We didn't take into account marking, because it was only the beginning of semester and we know, anecdotally, that marking is probably one of the worst areas. So this likely underestimates the degree of underpayment.

When we reported this and put it to the university, they were quoted in The Guardian as saying:

Beyond this report, we are not currently aware of any other data or evidence to suggest our academic staff are frequently working hours beyond what they are contracted to do.

The fact that they have been told about this—and I have been involved multiple times in telling them, and so have many of my colleagues—before this and they've refused to engage shows that this is demonstrably false. So, Senator Faruqi, in answer to your question about them being defensive, of course they're defensive—they underpay us and they know they underpay us, and if they did have to pay us correctly they might have to employ us permanently and that is exactly what they don't want to do.

Senator FARUQI: Would you agree that casualisation is embedded in the business model of universities, and given that casualisation, and I think Dr Kanjere mentioned this earlier, allows the condition for wage theft to flourish, wage theft is embedded in the business model of Australian universities?

Dr Doran : I would agree entirely, and I'd back up the comments of Dr Kanjere on the piece-rates issue. She mentioned that casuals are paid for the particular piece of work they do. They're paid for a lecture plus, say, two hours of preparation. By virtue of this being determined by higher level managers who, typically, haven't taught in years—senior managers likely haven't taught since PowerPoint existed, for example—this consistently undercuts what's going on. So the basis upon which casuals are paid is on a system that, necessarily, will not pay the hours worked. If piece rates were abolished and casuals had to be paid for the hours they do, suddenly we would all be paid for the hours we do. Because the university system rests on these piece rates with casual staff, yes, underpayment is embedded within the system overall.

Senator FARUQI: What would happen, Dr Doran, if you only worked the hours you were paid for?

Dr Doran : We would face a situation where we would do a very poor job: we wouldn't really prepare. We'd rock up to our classes and do them on a bit of a whim. Perhaps, in a one-hour class, we would stop 25 minutes in and go, 'That's our pay done,' or we wouldn't mark everything. There are things that fall through the gaps, that are difficult to define but are generally covered under administration. We wouldn't respond to students' emails. We wouldn't show up to the lectures in order to understand the content, if we're a tutor. We wouldn't do mandatory HR workplace modules that we regularly get aggressive emails about but when we ask for pay for them we're generally flicked on to HR and that's the end of it. We, basically, wouldn't be able to do our job. So, as Dr Kanjere said, our choice is: do our job poorly, harm our students and not be employed again, and not get paid, or do our job well and work many hours unpaid.

Senator FARUQI: It's a very difficult choice between the quality of learning and teaching that you provide and having the stress of working so many overtime hours. I have a specific question for you, Dr Fielke. I understand that you were the recipient of back pay from six years of historical underpayment, for marking, at the University of Melbourne. I understand that you still work there. How have conditions for marking changed, if they have at all, since you had this case dealt with, in a way, and are they now in line with the current EBA at the University of Melbourne?

Dr Fielke : Thank you for that specific question about the University of Melbourne. I work in the Faculty of Arts at the School of Culture and Communication. The payments were made to many former and current staff at the university last year. As we began semester 1 of 2021, we were given guidelines for how casual and sessional academic work is to be claimed in the current academic year. We found that it was exactly the same document that was delivered in 2020. Given the events of last year and given the Fair Work appearances and so on, it's surprising to me that these guidelines haven't changed at all. One example I can give to you is about the payment of peak rate was per hour, for marking in particular, which was the standard across the school where I work. The language has been shifted to be a guideline, rather than an actual determination, on how you can claim for that particular type of work. Interestingly, we've seen that the guidelines that have been delivered by the faculty in fact suggests that, if you are a first time academic tutor marking students' work, you might be given the provision to claim for a rate of 3,000 words per hour as a guideline, but, if you're a more experienced tutor who maybe has taught a subject in the school or been faculty before, the guideline is that you should be charging for a working rate of 2,000 words per hour. You can already see the inconsistency there. The more qualified you are and the better you are at your job, the less you can expect to be paid for the task that you are doing.

We know that all assessments submitted by students to the university are, by definition, going to be different. If they were the same, we'd have issues of plagiarism or collusion. So it takes a different amount of time for every single piece of the assessments to be marked. And as you can, I'm sure, appreciate, it is vastly different, depending on the particularities of the assessment and, in fact, the students' own responses to the assessment. These guidelines remain. They are expectations for performance. You can imagine that many tutors, especially first-time tutors, don't feel like they have any scope to actually claim for the hours that they work when it comes to marking, because they're being told this is what is expected of them. In fact, if you don't conform to those standards, you might feel like you're underperforming as the employee, so you don't charge correctly for the actual amount of time taken to do this particular form of work.

Senator FARUQI: Dr Fielke, are you telling me that even after the University of Melbourne was embroiled in wage theft—I think they've paid back $6 million already—the guidelines that actually resulted in that underpayment and wage theft still remain the same. Is that what you're telling me?

Dr Fielke : Yes. I've got a document, which I'm happy to submit to the committee, which is called 'The faculty of arts operating rules' for sessional teaching staff. It was given to us in an email in early- or mid-February of this year. There are marking guidelines here which correspond to what I've just explained to the committee. The point is the university has paid back underpayments for six years for claims made by the staff and faculty, for marking in particular, yet the sense is that, while the university might be happy to settle these claims and the former and current staff are happy to have settled these claims, procedurally not much has changed for continuing staff working professionally in the faculty. In fact, I would say teams can't continue along a business-as-usual type of arrangement. So there seems to be no actual accountability or recognition, I suppose, that things need to change in the faculty. In fact, in other instances I could name, things are also getting worse, deteriorating, in other forms of our work.

Senator FARUQI: I find that absolutely preposterous.

Senator SHELDON: Thanks very much again for all of you joining us. Very brave souls you are for coming forward. We've heard a great deal of evidence in the various industries, including the university sector, about the pressures that can be applied to those in insecure work, casual employment—particularly, Dr Doran, your evidence that 80 per cent of participants of the survey are still carrying out unpaid time. We've got universities and the university sector being found to be underpaying by tens upon tens upon tens of millions of dollars across the country, and we've still got substantial underpayment going on regardless of the amount of money that's had to be appropriately back paid to casual academics—is that correct?

Dr Doran : Very much so. When you look at various universities' submissions—for example, the University of Sydney's submission by former vice-chancellor, Dr Michael Spence—they try to look very generous and magnanimous in terms of saying, 'We self-reported certain areas of wage theft,' which, fair enough, in certain areas they have. Except, that, when we then approach them with further things and, for example, make a recommendation or suggestion that we will work with them to develop a larger audit across the entire university so we can get to the bottom of this, there is silence—absolute silence. So, yes, very much so.

Senator SHELDON: Another important point is self-reporting. As you may be aware, the Fair Work Ombudsman has given a more lenient approach to self-reporting. Has a Fair Work Ombudsman been in contact, are you aware, with you or any of your colleagues? As you pointed out, a number of people here have been underpaid. Have they carried out follow-up contact?

Dr Doran : I can only speak for the University of Sydney Casuals Network, and we haven't been approached.

Dr Kanjere : I'm convener of the La Trobe University Casuals Network who have made a submission to this inquiry and have subsequently been approached by the Fair Work Ombudsman to give evidence to them. That was an exploratory analysis. They have not at this stage announced a full-scale investigation into wage theft of La Trobe University, but we are hoping that is forthcoming.

Having said that, however, I think that it is important that our focus in addressing this issue should be future focused and about building the industrial capacity of casualised workers to actually challenge the conditions, rather than looking to—with all respect to the brilliant people who work at the ombudsman's office—external access to the legislative assistance.

Dr Kane : The UNSW Casuals Network has been contacted by the ombudsman, but no information has been provided as of yet. It seems to be much in the same nature as the contact to the La Trobe casuals network—an exploratory analysis to try and get a sense of what's happening at UNSW.

Dr Fenton : I can add to the evidence by saying that TEQSA actually contacted me. That's the regulatory body who looks at teaching quality at universities. They contacted me after I appeared in an ABC story about wage theft at UQ last year. I shared with them some data that I have about my personal experience of working at UQ, data similar to what Yaegan was talking about in relation to the University of Sydney. It was data documenting all the unpaid work that goes into performing routine teaching tasks. Piece rates are exploitative and undervalue the work of teaching. So I shared that data with TEQSA and TEQSA informed me that they passed it on to the Fair Work Ombudsman. But, similar to others, my sense is that that was exploratory only and nothing has come from that. But I would share Dr Kanjere's argument that being future focused is more important, and looking to change the conditions that allow this kind of wage theft to happen is our focus.

Senator SHELDON: I thank you for your point that the best people to regulate are a group of workers coming together and regulating rather than leaving it to an agency. Part of what we are investigating is the effectiveness of regulation and what forms they have taken. The Fair Work Ombudsman, as you have pointed out, is one form of regulation. I want to explore that a little bit further. Dr Doran and maybe some others can answer this. Dr Doran, I'm just going to use your statistic again—the 82 per cent of unpaid casuals. Are you aware of whether any of those 82 per cent of unpaid casuals have been contacted by the Fair Work Ombudsman as a follow-up to their agreed arrangements with the universities?

Dr Doran : Off the top of my head, I don't think so. But I can take that on notice and check with people just in case individuals have.

Senator SHELDON: There's no reporting back of a groundswell of the Fair Work Ombudsman actively going out to all those people who had money stolen from them before? Are they still having money stolen from them now?

Dr Doran : As far as I am aware, the ombudsman hasn't. Are they having money stolen from them now? Yes, very much so; it continues. In fact I spoke to a colleague yesterday who wasn't part of this and asked her how the beginning of her semester was going. Her response was that her tutorials had been reclassified as administration hours, which paid one-third of what a tutorial would pay. Even then, she isn't given enough hours for the work she does.

CHAIR: Could I just get that evidence in dollar terms—a tutorial reclassified drops 60 per cent?

Dr Doran : The way tutorials or lectures are paid is that you get paid for a face-to-face hour and then the equivalent of, say, two, three or one hours of preparation, depending on the classification. Administration hours, also known as demonstration hours—they are two sides of the same coin—don't get the preparation hours. So you get paid for the hour of work that you are doing face-to-face, but it assumes that you just wander in and do it.

Senator SHELDON: Is the system of self-reporting as a deterrent to wage theft working in the university sector?

Dr Doran : Not at all.

Senator SHELDON: Do any of the other witnesses want to add a comment to that? Is the self-reporting system, which involves a more lenient approach from the Fair Work Ombudsman, succeeding in deterring ongoing wage theft in universities now?

Dr Kane : The statement that I provided to the committee relates to my employment at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. They are undergoing a self-audit for wage theft and they have hired an accounting firm to assist with that. As far as I'm aware, they have paid back people in the School of Business. This auditing process does have some openness in the sense that it corresponds with the NTEU branch at UNSW as well. It remains to be seen whether this is going to act as a deterrent against wage theft in future. My personal opinion is that I doubt we will see any substantial change as a result of this. The things that need to change in order to prevent this from happening are these models applied to teaching activities, these piece rates, which need to change. Essentially, they are working within the confines of the relevant agreements to a large degree. However, those agreements still do not have enough paid time for teaching activities, if you see what I mean. It requires a far larger change than just auditing on the part of the university. I think Dr Fielke wants to go next.

Dr Kanjere : Actually I'm going to respond to this. The issue with the self-reporting mechanism—and this was touched on in our opening statement—is around the extreme normalisation of the process of wage theft and the fear and disempowerment experienced by casualised workers. And I thank one of the senators who gave a nod to that in their response to our statement.

At the La Trobe University Casuals Network, we conducted a survey during 2020 of about 150 casualised workers throughout the university. One of the questions that we asked the workers was, 'Would you fear repercussions if you asked to be paid for all the hours you work?' It was not 'If you demand' or 'Would you take the university to the Fair Work Ombudsman', but just if you said to your supervisor, 'It actually took me longer. Can I get paid a little bit more?' Only 27 percent of respondents answered no to that question. Most answered either yes or unsure or they preferred not to say. This gives a sense of the extreme normalisation of the wage theft model and the extreme fear around speaking up, and it again calls into question these kinds of limited legislative mechanisms, which do not focus on building workers' industrial power so that people do in fact feel safe to recognise the extent of this problem. Dr Irving from Macquarie University would also like to address this point.

Dr Irving : I would just like to add to that point by mentioning something as mundane as emails. Emails, as we all know on this panel, are an integral part of managing any course. The number of emails, particularly after the explosion of emails that happened last year during COVID, are often not paid. For example, at Macquarie, emails are covered by the 'other academic activities' category, yet whether or not a department budgets for this is hit or miss. Some will pay their casuals for writing emails and some won't. Some used to but have since decided to stop now that there are COVID-related budget restraints. Unfortunately, of course, the work of keeping email communication with students remains even if we are not paid for it. This is another example where casual staff will perhaps ask, if they are brave enough to ask, for more money and maybe be denied.

We're also often hesitant to press—and this is an important point—not only because of fear but because we don't want our managers to get into trouble. Maybe our head of department is actually a decent person and doing the best that they can under the constraints that they have, but if there's no budget for them to pay us more than what's been allowed—this is particularly pertinent this semester because of all the COVID-related budget restraints—if there's no budget there, we don't want to complain too loudly because we don't want to throw our managers under the bus either. This shows the systemic nature of this issue.

Senator SHELDON: Thank you very much for that evidence. Are there any examples of adverse action that any of you could give that you have either experienced personally or observed? Dr Doran raised, and you have all been raising, the issue of concerns about adverse action that's come out of your surveys, but do you have personal experiences of, or have you observed any, adverse action taken against casual academics?

Dr Doran : I'll begin. Firstly, it's difficult to ever precisely link having spoken up to not being re-employed. That's the first thing: we can't really look at an email and say that that was the reason. But there is a lot of anecdotal evidence. I have a lot of colleagues who very suddenly had less work than they'd had for many, many years after they became a bit more well known for speaking out. There's one person in particular—whom I'm not going to name or give any details on, for obvious reasons—who was initially approached to perhaps speak at this because they have a particularly horrifying story. They're an international student who is also a casual. Their tutorials were reclassified as administration hours a couple of years ago, which leads to the third pay, depending on the classification. They suddenly were given no work whatsoever. That meant that, firstly, being an international student on a short-term visa rather than a student visa, they just freaked out. It meant that the rest of their colleagues, who were very similar, also freaked out and refused to speak up. When asked whether they would want to speak today, they weren't going to risk it in any way whatsoever. This is unfortunately supercommon. It's difficult to, as I said, point to an email and say, 'That's the reason we lost,' but, very regularly, people who speak up suddenly have no work or significantly fewer hours than they previously had. Dr Kane has said that he will be able to speak to this as well.

Dr Kane : CUPUW is trying to make contact with university employees who have been what we call 'blacklisted' by the employer. This work is at a fairly early stage. I can't give any details of names of institutions at this point, for obvious reasons. Starting with my own experience at the University of Sydney, it was not necessarily uncommon to hear people, at the very least, mentioning that they were scared that, if they were to do a certain thing, it would adversely affect their employment. I heard stories in some faculties of universities where people had been blacklisted. There was some kind of record kept somewhere by management, whether it be in physical form or just verbally, and people could not get employment at this particular part of the university. Again, I'm not going to get into details, for obvious reasons. We are contacting people. The details haven't quite emerged clearly, but, from some of the things that they have come across from some of the contacts that have been made, CUPUW sees the intense personal effects from having adverse action taken against them, or at least suspected adverse action taken against them, by the employer, such as not being picked again to coordinate or tutor a subject. It has tremendous psychological and financial impacts on individuals. It can obviously be quite devastating. That's all I'll say on the matter right now. I believe that Yaegan wanted to say something on this as well.

Senator SHELDON: Just on that question, did you say the instance that you were describing was with a private, for-profit provider? Is that correct?

Dr Kane : No. I was talking about a public university.

Dr Doran : I'll pass to Dr Fenton from the University of Queensland.

Dr Fenton : I have some experience, and I'm not sure whether 'blacklisting' is the right word for what I have experienced, but I definitely stopped receiving work in the department at UQ, where I had worked for a long time—for 13 years—after I appeared in the national news media last year talking about wage theft. It's impossible to know if that appearance was the cause of the loss of work, because, being casually employed, you're not fired; you just don't get invited back; you aren't asked to do the work that you were previously doing. I can't know for sure what the cause of my loss of work was. In fact, it might be multifactorial or complex. What I do know is that, when that story came out in August last year, I was not doing the teaching work I had previously been doing, but I was still employed to supervise an honours student. A few days after the story came out, I was removed from all of the internal communications in that department—all of the email lists—which I didn't know about, because you aren't notified when you're removed. It just became apparent to me about a week later that I was missing communications relevant to my duties in the division. I asked a school manager if she could please put me back on the relevant list. She never did. Instead, she forwarded me some communication she thought I needed to perform my job. I think that's possibly telling, about how departments, how universities, respond to public scrutiny of their employment practices. I haven't been given any more work this year in that department. The work still exists. It's being done by other casually employed people. I don't know for sure if it's because of appearing in the media, but there's a correlation.

Senator SHELDON: Dr Fenton, and I put this to all of you, this being deactivated whilst being paid by gig sounds very similar to what's been happening to food delivery workers in the gig economy. I just wake up one day and find out they've been deactivated. There's very little opportunity to challenge and pursue rectification of unjust practices or to question practices of the universities. It sounds like the universities have 'uberised' academia. It's a great deal of concern to me. I thank you all for your evidence today. It's very stark and startling, and I'm very interested in how you've progressed in your campaign.

CHAIR: I don't recollect a Senate inquiry I've chaired that had six doctors appear before it. So I will put you on notice, and I'm sure Senator Faruqi's going to point this out to you, that before we close at 11, maybe for the last 10 minutes, we should have some solutions from people in the field who have rectified some of these issues.

Senator FARUQI: Indeed, we'll use the last few 10 minutes for your input into what can be done, because it seems that even with allegations and paying back these underpayments not much has changed at universities, and that is absolutely disgraceful. Dr Doran, you were talking about the casual networks and the surveys that you have done, which reveal how much this issue of wage theft is rife at your university. You said you asked the universities if they were interested in doing a broader review of underpayments and you didn't really get a response. I have seen news reports, of the University of Sydney, that say there is an ongoing review of employee entitlements by PwC. I'm just wondering if you have any understanding of what the status of that review is?

Dr Doran : I've also seen those reports. At this stage, we haven't been contacted in any way as a casuals network, definitely not about our particular order or the things we put forward in meetings with relatively senior people within the university. When we have put forward, we've heard lots of, 'Oh, dear,' and that is the end of it and we hear nothing more. There may be an ongoing inquiry into it, but I think, if nothing else, even if they are looking into it, it is clearly very untransparent. It's not the type of thing where I think we can be confident we'll come up with a solution that is anything but useful for university managers.

If they are genuinely serious, I feel as though it would be good of them to reach out to us. We the University of Sydney Casuals Network and the National Tertiary Education Union can together, in good faith, roll out an audit of actual hours worked. They have a whole time sheet system that should be able to be put toward this thing so that there can be a full understanding of this. But, so far, there's been nothing.

Senator FARUQI: I'm shocked, because if you're not contacting the people who are being impacted by wage theft what is the review about? I'll put those questions to them as well when they appear later on. Dr Kane, I have a few questions specifically about the University of New South Wales. In their submission, the University of New South Wales states:

… a necessarily high level of autonomy and self-management by academic staff, the typically devolved nature of administrative arrangements, and the relative complexity of applicable Enterprise Agreements, can create conditions in which a risk of underpayment may inadvertently occur.

I do recognise there's a lot going on in that sentence, and I would appreciate your help in unpacking some of these claims. Firstly, Dr Kane, do you agree with UNSW's diagnosis of the problem?

Dr Kane : I agree that universities—not just the University of New South Wales but most, if not all, universities in Australia and internationally—are large complex organisations. It's a plausible excuse for what I would describe as systematic, decades-long wage theft. To be honest, the answer is no. I agree with the NTEU's submission. I believe where it says that in a large sophisticated organisation they ought to be capable of getting their accounting right. This peculiar argument seems to be coming from the employers and the employers unions, the Higher Education Industrial Association. The argument is that universities are so large and industrial relations so complex that wage theft is sort of unavoidable. It's a plausible deniability sort of argument that doesn't strike me as being particularly persuasive, largely because these patterns are so entrenched that it becomes difficult to view it feasibly as a sequence of errors. Does that make sense?

Senator FARUQI: Yes, it absolutely does. I want to go back to one of their statements which talks about necessarily high levels of autonomy and self-management by academic staff' which they also say, 'creates conditions which risk underpayment'. Reading that it seems to me what the university is actually saying is that the staff themselves are to blame for the wage theft. Are staff to blame for their own underpayment?

Dr Kane : No, not at all. We've heard a lot about how casual employees are, though various different ways, pressured into working more than they are paid to. Academics—permanent and fixed-term staff—experience the same problems working over and above their workloads. Casual work is systemic in higher education. No, it is not the fault of individual workers. I read this explanation also as a way to devolve responsibility for what's happening down through the layers of management, in a way to distance senior management from what is actually happening. Hence why I described it as a kind of plausible deniability [inaudible] for positing the old [inaudible] management as deniable access when it comes to instances of clear wage theft being exposed. The excuse is: 'We are so autonomous, we are so disconnected from various different parts of the university that these things can happen without executives really knowing about it'. It maybe sounds plausible at face value but to me it's not persuasive because these are big organisations. As I said, there are complex accounting procedures. They are able to work very quickly to implement major workplace changes—the pandemic demonstrated that. I don't buy it, and I don't think anyone else should to be honest.

Senator FARUQI: Thank you, Dr Kane. Dr Irving, if I could come to you and Macquarie University in particular. I understand that Macquarie University has said in their submission, in September of last year, that they would be conducting a review of casual academic work and activity assessments. Are you aware of this review?

Dr Irving : Yes, I am. In fact, I believe I am invited to take part in it when it begins. We've been told for some time now that this is going to happen, however, because of budget reconfigurations due to COVID the university has basically got their priorities elsewhere right now. I do look forward to that when it does arrive.

Senator FARUQI: So COVID priorities means that this issue gets buried. We've heard a similar thing from the University of Western Australia. They say it's not cost effective, apparently, to do this sort of stuff but it's fine to keep underpaying people. I want a little bit more if any of you, or as many of you, could respond to that. I know that there is a real fear of reporting wage theft or even your working conditions to your management. I just want to know a little bit more about the experiences of reporting wage theft to universities, because, in their submissions, universities have claimed that they have systems and processes in place to prevent wage theft. Obviously, that has not been your experience. So what has been your experience when you have come forward?

Dr Kanjere : I have many tertiary employers, as many casuals do to make a living wage, but I specifically have lodged a wage theft dispute with my institution, La Trobe University, actually by their invitation. This happened in December of last year. I am yet to hear back anything from my university on that. So we're now three months later and I'm yet to hear anything back from that, and this is from an invited inquiry rather than me initiating this out of the blue. So they knew that this was coming. The only thing that I heard back from my university has been a kind of veiled threat that potentially they might find an overpayment and therefore try to garnish my wages. So I say that that's probably among the better experiences—I haven't yet been actually fired, but it gives a sense of how urgent and how much priority university management puts on this.

Dr Irving : In my time working with the Macquarie Casual Network I have collected a number of stories from casual staff who have tried to raise their experiences of wage theft with both the NTEU as well as with management. I'll focus on management. In speaking directly to heads of department and heads of school, they have been dismissed and they have been told: 'These are the agreed piece rates; these are the agreed rates of pay; if you're not able to do the work in the time that's been allotted to you, then we will essentially find someone who can.' So they've been offered 'professional development opportunities' to enable them to work more efficiently. They've sometimes been invited to cut corners, and that's most concerning. By cutting corners, I mean for example spending less time marking an assessment or reducing the amount of feedback that's being provided to the students. These all have very direct implications for the quality of student learning, and most casual colleagues that I know personally are not comfortable taking these kinds of suggestions seriously.

Of those who speak to the NTEU their complaints are always taken very seriously, of course, but they are sometimes invited to then directly approach management or HR. At this point, many just give up because they don't see the point, because these issues that we're all speaking about are very systemic. They're baked into the way of doing things; they're baked into our way of doing business. So, many casual staff end up abandoning their pursuit of stolen wages or just don't come forward at all, because we don't see the point; it just feels like too big of a mountain to climb. Many of us are stressed and overworked trying to make a living out of the bits and pieces of work we can get here and there, and we just don't have the energy for that kind of activism.

Senator FARUQI: Just one more question before we go to the solutions, as the chair alluded to earlier. I just want to find out the situation for honorary research affiliates, in particular, who aren't really paid for their research. Within this overwork and underpayment, how are they faring and what has their experience been?

Dr Doran : Up until two weeks ago, I was an honorary affiliate in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Sydney. I was a full-time fixed term staff member until July last year. With about 17,000 staff, I lost my job. I was offered an honorary affiliate. For those who don't know, that is an affiliation with the university that gives you basically a title or affiliation, so you can say you're associated with the University of Sydney. It also gives you things like library access, which is crucial for researchers. But it's unpaid and it comes with some sort of responsibility. In my particular case, I'd been supervising multiple PhD students—one to completion a couple of weeks ago. I love that work. She's done an incredible job. But that was an enormous amount of work, not a cent of which was paid for when my contract ended. In addition to that, because permanent jobs are so difficult to come by and there are so few due to casualisation, it means that you constantly need to research and have output. You cannot show up to a job interview and have a gap of six months. If you're not employed for six months, you can't use that as an excuse. You need to write articles and you need to write books, whether or not you're employed. Honorary affiliations are a way for universities to take the research and supervision work and other work of completely unpaid staff and attribute it to the university by virtue of them being able to say, 'We are part of this university.' That is standard. It's across the board. Many departments will have—and it depends on the size—a dozen or so honorary affiliates. Those who lose their jobs will regularly, as a kind of conciliatory measure, be offered an honorary affiliation, and they will be so glad to get it because they can keep library access—simple things like that.

Senator FARUQI: This is an open question for anyone who wants to answer. Who is ultimately to blame for this endemic wage theft in the higher education sector? And what do we do about it? We will be making recommendations. You are the ones who have, sadly and horrifically, faced the consequences of this, so tell us what we can do.

Dr Doran : I will pass to Dr Fenton.

Dr Fenton : It's a difficult question to answer, partly because the situation is systemic and, for such systemic wage theft to be taking place, it involves a lot of people propping up the system. So, in terms of who is to blame, it's unavoidable that university management is to blame for that—that's vice-chancellors that, we might say, expand a class of upper-level managers. They know that the treatment of casual labour is sustaining their businesses during a period of underfunding. They are to blame. The underfunding of public education is also to blame. The NTEU approach is—from their submission and from their appearance earlier, and we agree with them on this—that we need some really big structural reform. I don't know if the committee wants to hear that, but that's the nature of the problem. It's also important to point out that the rampant casualisation, the accelerated casualisation, in our industry underpins wage theft. There are a number of measures we could take to address that. We could pursue sector-wide de-casualisation measures. That's something we will be doing in CUPUW and through the NTEU, but legislating federally to limit how casualisation can be used is also important, rather than allowing employers to set the terms for casual arrangements, to basically to casualise without any limits. Solutions are multifactorial and have to get at the root causes, which are structural and systemic. I'm not sure whether my colleagues would like to add anything.

Dr Doran : I think we're all comfortable with Dr Fenton's response.

Senator FARUQI: The committee is definitely interested in whatever reform is needed to address this issue. I thank you all once again for all the work that you do for universities. I've been at university for a very long time and learning and teaching is very close to my heart. But, most of all, thank you for speaking up.

Dr Doran : Thank you very much for having us. We really appreciate this.

CHAIR: Thank you for your appearance here today.

Proceedings suspended from 10:55 to 11:08